On Wednesday, November 28, at 1:30 pm, we boarded the Crystal Serenity at Lisbon for an 11-night cruise to Madeira, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Agadir, Cadiz, Valencia and Barcelona.
While there are many ports on this cruise, we will concentrate instead on the ship and the Crystal experience.
So what does one get with Crystal Serenity?
The answer is a large and very comfortable ship of 68,870 tons, built in the same shipyard as Normandie, France and Queen Mary 2, and carrying a maximum of 1,070 passengers. With a passenger space ratio above 60 tons per guest this is the one of the highest in the industry. And on our voyage, with just 730 passengers, there was space to spare.
If one has cruised with Crystal before, it just changed to all-inclusive a little over six months ago, so the first impression one gets is rather interesting. Rather than the bartenders and sommeliers trying to sell you expensive wines so they can maximize their tips, they now open with an introduction of the wines that are included in the inclusive package. I expected the hard sell again so when our first sommelier finished listing the choice of wines, I thought he was listing the ones that made money for the line, and asked him for the list of inclusive wines.
It takes a little while to get used to the fact that the crew is no longer trying to maximise on board revenue – but once one gets used to that, it is much more relaxing and one is not on guard all the time against such typical cruise line activity as trying to raise your spend well above the ticket price. It is all in the fare unless one wants a particular premium wine. Internet apart of course – to get the price down to 20 cents a minute one has to buy $300 worth.
The entertainment venues include the main show lounge forward and the Palm Court Bar up top forward, with a view over the bows; the piano bar, the Avenue Saloon aft, and another piano bar that also features a string quartet in the atrium. The choice of spirits is international, but the wines take a heavy slant towards American – with wines from California and the State of Washington available in all the bars.
The European inclusive wines, a Cotes du Rhone, a Languedoc and a Chablis from France plus a Pinot Grigio from Italy, offer an excellent selection but are only available in the dining room. One suspects this is because the American wines are from Crystal’s own “C” collection and there may be an element of cost control here, but if one prefers European wines, it is an odd policy when Crystal is trying to expand to a wider international audience, and to be honest, it is disappointing.
If you play around with the bartenders they may be able to bring a bottle of a European wine to their bar but to be honest, they should not be expected to do that.
The music, at least on our cruise in the Avenue Saloon, showed a marked tilt towards American middle of the road – so if you like Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie, with a little Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in, the this is the bar for you. Think of a song like “Sweet Caroline.”
But don’t be looking for contemporary American artists such as the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac, because you are unlikely to hear them unless you can get them by request. The addition of the string quartet from eastern Europe does broaden the choice a bit. To add to the musical background, a tape of “What a Wonderful Life” by Louis Armstrong is played every time a Crystal ship leaves port, but one does not generally hear any Duke Ellington, in fact I heard no blues, jazz or rock, which is a pity.
Possibly in the shows but one shouldn’t have to go to a show to hear a particular kind of music.
The best part of the cruise was the service to our stateroom and the fact that we were upgraded to a 403 sq ft veranda – just as a guide the typical 1970s cabin measured 120 sq ft and Carnival later upped this to 180 sq ft, but there are still plenty of 150 sq ft staterooms, even on relatively modern ships. Our extra large balcony was heaven. There was enough room for two deeply cushioned chairs and stools that could be put together to form a proper chaise lounge instead of perching at a table as is often the case.
There is also a table to that the two chairs can be used for on veranda dining. It was great when not going ashore, or on days at sea, to be able to relax all day in the privacy of one stateroom and have food brought if we didn’t want to go to a dining venue. The penthouses also have the advantage of a butler, who will do pressing for you, make reservations at the alternative restaurants and arrange a goodly supply of free wine for you room, not to mention canapes every afternoon.
As to the food, the jury is still out on this one as the cruise is not yet half over, so we will report its final verdict soon. But for venues there are plenty. As well as the main dining room, there are two alternative restaurants – Prego for Continental dishes and the famous Silk Road by Nobu, with its own sushi bar, for Asian cuisine. The latter is because, although based in California, Crystal Cruises is owned by Japan’s NYK Line. In fact, the original Crystal ship, Crystal Harmony, now sails as Asuka for NYK Cruises in the Japanese market.
On our voyage there were also quite a few groups of Japanese cruisers, as well as Chinese-Americans. There is also the pool area midships on deck 12, which has now become a served restaurant area called Tastes. This area is very popular and there can be times even with just 730 passengers on board, when it is not possible to get a seat. This is partially because Crystal only open the buffet-style Lido Cafe for lunch from noon till 1:30 pm. On deck 6, there is also a small self-serve area and bar called The Bistro, and there is very good room service at no extra cost.